Connelly's path to success started at the Reitz Union


Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 11:55 p.m.

Facts

If you go

  • What: University of Florida Library West dedication
  • When: 1:30 p.m. today
  • Where: In the library on the University of Florida campus, second floor south reading room overlooking the Plaza of the Americas
  • Guest speaker: UF alum and best-selling novelist Michael Connelly to mark the reopening of the library following a major three-year renovation.

  • Best-selling novelist Michael Connelly can look back to his college days at the University of Florida and pinpoint the night his life changed by going to the movies.
    Connelly, 50, is a 1980 UF grad. Today, he'll be the guest speaker at the dedication of the newly renovated Library West on campus. Appropriately, libraries were one of his frequent campus haunts.
    It was a dollar movie at the Reitz Union that put Connelly on the path to being a mystery writer. He recalled the union had a running Monday night film series. One night the film series featured Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye," based on the novel by Raymond Chandler and featuring his tough guy detective Philip Marlowe. The pre-movie discussion that evening focused on the liberties Altman took with the book's plot and the backlash it created.
    "That whole discussion about how they had changed it so dramatically from the book made me want to read the book," Connelly explained in a phone interview this week from his home in Tampa.
    And discovering Chandler and Marlowe brought about a dramatic change from "being satisfied or happy to just be a happy reader or a watcher of films to being someone who wanted to be behind the creation of something, who wanted to write stories as well as read them."
    That epiphany also brought him to an academic crossroads.
    "The next question is, 'Well, how do I get in a position to do that?' I don't know anything about crime. I don't know anything about cops. I don't know anything about writing. All I know about is reading what I like to read," he said. "I chose to go into journalism to learn how to write and hopefully use a press pass to get into the police station."
    And that's exactly what Connelly did, writing about cops and crime for newspapers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale and eventually making the move to Los Angeles. In 1992 he made the leap from news into fiction, and mystery lovers were introduced to Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch in Connelly's first novel, "The Black Echo."
    Bosch and Connelly have taken up residence on the best-seller lists ever since. His latest novel, "Echo Park," is the 12th in the Bosch series. In May "The Overlook," which first appeared as a 16-part serial novella in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, will hit book stores in an expanded version, with Bosch again at center stage. Connelly is also the author of "Blood Work," which was the basis for the 2002 Clint Eastwood film of the same name.
    Connelly continues to draw inspiration from Chandler. While Chandler's books may not make college reading lists, Connelly says they have lessons to offer. With a major in journalism and a minor in creative writing, he said Chandler's "less-is-more school of writing" was helpful for both areas of study.
    "His books are really about a character or a person living by a personal code and sticking to it. And I think that might be a good lesson for anybody to have," he added.
    It was while at UF he also found literary inspiration from another author, but that discovery required more digging. In the late 1970s, Hunter S. Thompson was well known, but his work was not easy to find in book stores. So Connelly camped out in the library stacks, mining 10 years of back issues of Rolling Stone magazine to read the original stories of Thompson and his contemporaries.
    "I really liked that kind of journalism that was in the Rolling Stone in the late '60s and early '70s, but I discovered it late," he said.
    The Bosch books are all set in Los Angeles, where Connelly lived for 14 years. In 2001 he, along with his wife and daughter, made the move back to Florida. It gave his daughter, who is now almost 10, a chance to know her grandmothers. At the same time it offered him a challenge.
    "I had this kind of instinctive feel that I should change things up in the creative life," he said.
    So, now he continues to write about Los Angeles, but lives 3,000 miles away. He travels to L.A. about once a month, where he gathers ideas, checks in with the network of cops and detectives he considers his friends and does ride-alongs as they patrol the city.
    "It's like research by osmosis, see how people work, how they do their jobs, what they say, pick up the dialogue," he said.
    So far Florida hasn't made it into his novels, although he's working on a TV script set in Florida. "The Lincoln Lawyer," his tale of an attorney who operates from the trunk of his Lincoln Town Car, was based on research he did shadowing two criminal defense attorneys in Tampa. That story was then transplanted to L.A. for the book.
    "That to me indicates Florida is slowly seeping into what I'm doing," he said.
    Since his early days as a police reporter, law enforcement has gone through major changes, especially in the use of technology in solving crime. That has triggered an explosion of TV programs like "CSI." Connelly says he keeps abreast of the technology, but for him it's more window dressing.
    "I always have to keep my eye on the prize, which is character journey, a character story," he said.
    His current challenge is writing a movie screenplay based on the 1980s TV series "The Equalizer," and its stories of a former secret agent who helps folks who can't seem to get justice from the police. He says part of the challenge is taking that pre-9/11 story and adapting it to a post-9/11 world. As a novelist, it's also a writing challenge that will draw from his former profession and the "less is more" lessons of Chandler.
    "I think my newspaper experience will help me with the screenplay a lot. Especially as a cop reporter, you never have the space you'd like, and that pretty much sums up screenplay writing," he said.
    Gary Kirkland can be reached at 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun.com.

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